Chose your words and tone wisely before urging someone to cover up, advises conflict resolution specialist
Welcome to season 3 of national lockdown.
To help everyone catch up, last season we discovered that the world outside our homes did in fact exist, that the Capetonian urge to run on the promenade was far stronger than the fear about a virus that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands, and that our president sometimes struggles to put on a face mask.
This season promises to be even more spectacular as booze and churches are added to the mix.
Everyone’s immediate concern, however, will be those masks the president seems to sometimes be flummoxed by.
As a Sunday Times article states: “While the wearing of masks is not a fix-all solution, it may assist in curbing the spread of infection if everyone buys into the concept.”
The government has certainly bought into it.
Level 3 lockdown regulations clearly state: “No person is allowed to be in a public place, use any forms of public transport, or enter a public building if not wearing a cloth face mask or a homemade item, or another appropriate item that covers the mouth and nose.”
The trouble is that not everyone seems to have received the memo. Some people are venturing out into the wild without donning these potentially life-saving bits of fabric, while others are wearing them under their chins as if their faces have discovered a new, more toxic valve to expel air than from their noses and mouths.
“No person is allowed to be in a public place, use any forms of public transport, or enter a public building if not wearing a cloth face mask or a homemade item, or another appropriate item that covers the mouth and nose.”
All these mask faux pas are likely to put a lot of us on edge – and some of us seeing red.
“This virus has placed a lot of people in a space of fear. It’s like people are so angry and rattled by what we’ve gone through that they are being their own advocates for protecting themselves and society from being exposed [to it],” explains Jennifer Stoler, a conflict resolution specialist at the health and wellness company Impassion — Transcend Yourself.
“We think to ourselves: If I’m following the law, it’s unfair that others don’t follow it too. Some people may become really angry when they see another person isn’t wearing a mask and might approach that person with force and demand that they wear one.”
Here are her tips:
1. PAUSE, BREATHE AND BE CALM
When you see someone not wearing a mask, pause for a moment and assess the situation before taking action.
They might not be wearing a mask right now, but they may be taking a quick breather before putting one back on. We all know that wearing a mask is uncomfortable, and if you get claustrophobic at times you might need to take a breath.
If that’s not the case, at least calm down before approaching the person.
2. PUT YOURSELF IN THEIR SHOES
Think: “If I wasn’t wearing a mask, how would I want others to approach me?”
Your answer to this question can’t be: “I would always be wearing a mask”.
Let’s say you weren’t – the reason doesn’t matter right now. If someone had to come up to you, would you want them to yell? Speak nicely? Have respect? Explain?
Whatever the answer to that question is, do that. No one likes to be screamed at, and people are unlikely to listen when you do. If you want to get your message across, choose your words and tone wisely.
3. HOW YOU SAY SOMETHING MATTERS
Sometimes how we express ourselves has more of an effect than what we actually say. Approaching a person aggressively about their mask is likely to end in conflict.
The mask-wearing situation is kind of like road rage: you end up getting upset about one thing but then arguing about a totally different thing.
Depending on the situation, it would be advisable to approach the person and say, “Hi, I hope you’re well and safe. I wanted to ask you if there is a specific reason why you are not wearing a mask?”
This must be done in a subtle manner. You don’t want to embarrass them or make them feel like they’re being attacked. If that person feels like you actually care, they’ll probably engage with you and explain.
If there isn’t any reason why they aren’t wearing one, you can say: “I really don’t wish to make you feel uncomfortable at all, but wearing a mask not only protects others, it also protects you from the virus and keeps you safe. If you don’t have a mask I’d be happy to give you one or purchase one for you.”
Stoler says: “The world is stressful enough. We don’t need to be engaging in further conflict and anger.
“Let us be kind, speak with respect and morality, and educate, empower and inspire each other, rather than fighting and causing more harm.”